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It’s that time of year again and by now you are settling into your long-awaited summer associate position. For us in the firm it’s another chance to welcome a summer associate class and watch its members put professional and social skills to work. But make no mistake about it — the summer is also an opportunity for you and the firm to size each other up. And while you may feel certain that you would return should you receive an offer (nearly 70 percent of summer associates nationwide ultimately return), you wonder how you can ensure that the firm will be on that same page when the time comes to extend offers. First things first: Relax, this is not the first time around the block for the firm. As sure as May arrives, so does its summer program. You can expect your firm to do everything possible to ensure smooth sailing for you. However, no amount of planning or training on either side can eliminate the unexpected — those tough and challenging situations that you may encounter. How do you navigate them as a new employee? What resources will you need to rely on for help and what are the stickiest of the sticky situations? HELP, I’M DROWNING IN WORK Let’s start with a relatively easy one. Perhaps things are going your way and you’ve knocked a few assignments out of the ballpark. You feel you have become comfortable with the work flow and the lawyers have become comfortable with your work product. One thing leads to another and before you know it you find yourself overwhelmed with assignments. So now what? While it may not seem heroic to draw attention to your situation or to ask for help, it is truly a sign of professional maturity to do so. You should immediately tell the assigning coordinator at your firm that your appetite has exceeded your abilities at that particular point. Rest assured that the lawyers who are coordinating your assignments will be empathetic as they recall the learned skill of prioritizing and becoming comfortable with needs and demands in a client service business. You aren’t expected to be able to predict when that idle project might boil and wreak havoc on your work flow. The key here is to reach out for guidance. Again, it’s not an admission that you can’t handle the workload, it’s a mature statement that you ultimately want the matter staffed properly so that the client will be pleased with the firm’s work product. I CAN’T GET OFF THIS PROJECT Along the same lines of taking on more than you can handle is the problem of doing your job so well as to become indispensable on a particular matter or for a particular lawyer at the firm and, as a result, feeling stuck and unable to explore other opportunities. You have heard your summer program leaders, on numerous occasions, stress the importance of trying various practice groups and departments throughout your stay at the firm, so you know you are doing yourself an injustice by remaining prisoner on one particular project. To further complicate matters, perhaps the project, or lawyer, may be less than exciting or engaging for you but you have been told that your participation is crucial and your presence on the matter has become a given. You should start by noting your desire to be rotated off of the assignment to the summer assigning attorney and to the recruiting department. If your request is reasonable (e.g., you have given it some time) and it has been met with silence, you should then consider discussing the situation during your formal evaluation. Most firms will offer, at a minimum, a midsummer review opportunity, and you will be invited to ask questions and make comments about your time and performance at the firm thus far. Publicly airing your thoughts about the matter should do the trick, since your experience to date has been inconsistent with the goal of rotating you throughout the firm. It is worth remembering that the business of the firm goes on concurrently with the summer program and, while mechanisms are in place to identify these problems, you might find that you need to remind those charged with running the program of your concerns. Communication will play an important role in your summer on this issue and others. DATING, AND ALL THAT What about the issue of dating someone from the firm during the summer? If this strikes you as an inappropriate proposal at the outset, then you could have written this segment yourself. Your evaluations will include nothing about your dating ability and you should keep it that way. The bottom line is that sexual relationships, or any relationship that seems to be headed in that direction, have no place in your summer job. You are a temporary employee and your task at hand is to secure an offer, not a date. But what if the issue of relationships is introduced to you in an unwanted way? Perhaps you are working late on an assignment, everyone is in good spirits because the work has just been completed to the partner’s satisfaction, and he or she suggests that the two of you head out for a celebratory drink. What now? You have no interest in anything other than a professional working relationship and your instinct suggests that this is heading in the wrong direction. After initially declining the invitation, you are told that part of the overall evaluation of your work this evening will be about your cooperation and attitude. You remain professional and decline again, only to feel that the situation has now risen to the level of harassment. Follow your instincts and remove yourself immediately from the situation. The next step should be a careful read of the firm’s sexual harassment policy to determine the names of the complaint intake committee members or the channels by which you should address your concerns. No law firm would ever hold your declaration of harassment or accusation of a quid pro quo situation against you as an employee, but you need to follow the proper procedures and let the professionals take it from there. Under no circumstances should you discuss your situation with fellow summer associates or engage generally in gossip about the situation. MY OFFICEMATE’S NOT BUSY You believe it’s unfair that your officemate leaves at a certain time and seems to receive much less work than you. In your estimation you are working much harder for your offer and you want some answers about this apparent unequal work distribution. Stop in your tracks. This is not your concern. Your concern is to keep your eye on the ball. You can rest assured that the lack of hours of the individual who seems idle will become apparent to those in charge of the program. Consider also that those charged with distributing assignments may already be aware of the situation, and that, perhaps, it’s not by accident that the individual isn’t receiving what you consider to be a fair share of work! Regardless, it’s not your issue and you should stay focused on you. ISN’T THAT UNETHICAL? What should you do if you witness something during the summer that seems unethical? For example, suppose you observe a fellow summer associate reviewing the billing records or time sheets of another summer associate or lawyer. You should let the recruiting department know your thoughts or, depending on the severity of the situation, you should bring it to the attention of the hiring partner or summer program chair. Many law firms have general privacy, computer and/or electronic mail policies in place that should offer guidance for this issue. There will generally be an investigation to determine the facts. In offering your side of the story you should be careful not to editorialize or pass judgment. Your declaration of the facts, not theories, will work best towards resolving the situation in a fair way. DIVERSITY ISSUES The summer program is progressing smoothly and you feel you have made some wonderful friends and future colleagues in a supportive, caring environment. As a minority student, you have recollections of the fall recruiting season and your search for a firm that would celebrate and support your diversity. You trusted your instincts and they have proven right thus far. So imagine your shock when someone from within the firm or your summer class says something you feel to be inappropriate in your presence. You may be doubly frustrated and disappointed because no one in the group has spoken up to denounce the comment, and while you don’t consider yourself particularly sensitive, you are offended nonetheless. First, for the record, don’t assume that your initial instinct about the culture of the firm was wrong — things will be said, and recalling the old adage that one bad apple doesn’t spoil the whole bunch could serve you well. You should first consider speaking up and sharing your views on the subject. Don’t assume that because you are in the hallowed halls of a law firm, you can’t verbally correct the record. You were offended and your declaration to that effect will remind others (and you!) that your moral compass is intact and your values uncompromised. Be brave, be yourself, and remember that no one should be allowed to deprive you of happiness and comfort in the workplace. Of course, should you ultimately conclude that the culture of the firm is not what you had thought, then you should consider not joining the firm. Obviously, in the long run your work product will be better when produced in a supportive environment. Many of these situations are indeed worst-case scenarios and are provided to simply illustrate that all of your planning and training for the summer will not necessarily provide an exact blueprint for solving tough and complicated situations that you might encounter. You have reached a very exciting point in your emerging legal career, and you have every reason to expect that you will be as successful as you want to be. Arming yourself with a few “what-ifs” may prove helpful. Good luck and enjoy the summer. Bill Davis is manager of legal personnel and recruiting at Dewey Ballantine.

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